This second part of the Chromebooks series discusses the 'anytime and anywhere' argument and compares the power of web apps with Windows applications.

In the last post in this series about Google's Chromebooks, I outlined why I believe that "this new kind of computer" won't improve security in your organization. Today, I want to address two topics that also play an important role in the current discussion about Chromebooks: accessibility and ability.

2. Accessibility ^

Google touts the anytime and anywhere accessibility of web apps as one of the major advantages of Chromebooks. Honestly, this is simply wrong. Watching the keynote was a nice case in point of the limited accessibility of web apps. I was trying to watch the video in Boracay in the Philippines (by the way, one of the world's best beaches). Even though Internet speed in the Philippines is definitely above average compared to other locations in Asia, I wasn't able to watch the video continuously even though I used the lowest available resolution.

I certainly would have preferred a download link so I could watch the video offline, without interruption, anywhere and anytime. You might argue that this doesn't bother you because you have a high-speed Internet connection anyway. But tell this to a business traveler who really needs access to his data and applications when no internet connection is available. The point is that, with a Windows notebook, you can indeed guarantee that your data is accessible anytime and anywhere at maximum speed, but you certainly cannot guarantee this with a Chromebook.

Yes, there are web apps that also work offline. But offline web apps are an exception, not the rule. Thus Google's "anytime, anywhere" claim is highly questionable. Also note that this is not just an issue for business travelers. The limited accessibility of web apps will make Chromebooks a non-seller in large emerging markets like China, India, and Brazil, while Windows sales will be growing rapidly in these countries.

3. Ability ^

At one point in the keynote speech, my head stopped shaking ‘coz I was laughing out loud. That was when Sundar Pichai admitted that, for him, the availability of the game Angry Birds as a web app is the culmination point in Chrome's history. I never played this game, but the demo instantly reminded me of my Commodore 64 phase about 30 years ago when I was still wasting my time with computer games. For sure, Angry Birds would run without problems on a C64. So is this what you can do now with web apps, which was not possible a year ago? Playing a computer game that would also run on a 30-year-old, 8-bit machine? Come on, there must be more convincing examples of web apps out there.

None of the web apps that were presented at this keynote were really a match for modern Windows applications. This is no surprise, because JavaScript is still only a simple scripting language with capabilities that are ages behind modern programming languages.

HTML5 is certainly a major improvement. However, to be a game changer, web apps have to offer more and not less than Windows applications. There is nothing you can't do with a Windows application that you can do with a web app. Windows applications can store the data in the cloud and make it accessible anywhere and anytime, just like web apps. Office 2010 plus Office 365 is a good example of this.

However, there are still myriad things that even the smartest JavaScript programmer can't program but that pose no problem for a newbie Windows application developer. By the way, one of the best cloud apps for businesses—that is, Office 365—won't be available for Chromebooks.

So why would you want to buy a Chromebook if you can run all available web apps in the Chrome browser on a Windows netbook, along with the infinitely large number of Windows applications? What can a Chromebook offer that a Windows netbook can't? Will the marketing slogan "a new kind of computer" be sufficient to fool people into buying a simple Linux netbook that cannot even run OpenOffice? I seriously doubt it.

By the way, did you notice that Google used Windows 7 for all the demos at the keynote? Why not use Chrome OS? Are presentations one of those myriad situations where you need a real operating system and not just an HTML viewer?

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My next post will cover the discussion about operating system and application updates and data backups.

17 Comments
  1. RightShift 12 years ago

    Angry birds is no more complex than the games which were implemented in (Macromedia) Flash, ten years ago …

  2. Michael Pietroforte 12 years ago

    Isn’t it also available for iPhone and Android? I wonder if Space Invaders and Pacman also run on Chromebooks. That would be two culmination points for me.

  3. HoHum 12 years ago

    Your wish is granted (assuming you weren’t being facetious):

    https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/mpfpmopcnmaklmjnlbhpdcjcbfjehiie?hl=en-US#

  4. Questioner 12 years ago

    I have to say that your critics see only one side.
    You always speak of business people who need the best and the fastest all the time.
    But you never speak of students oder normal users at home.

    I am student and I already use Google Docs and so on on my normal Windows7 Notebook.

    One has to say that I would never trash my current Notebook for a chromebook. But it is a really good second notebook for the walk to the university, for hanging out in the park and for surfing around.

    Major presentations, video cutting and photoshopping is not the business of Google’s Chromebook.. and this it what they also say.

    I have to say that a chromebook would perfect fit to my main claims, as a student.

  5. Michael Pietroforte 12 years ago

    HoHum, wow that’s great. It is amazing what you can do with Chrome OS. 😉

    Questioner, 4sysops is a blog for Windows admins, so I am addressing mostly business related arguments. However, I don’t see why Chromebooks “would be perfect” for students? Why not get a cheaper Windows netbook and install Chrome on it? That way you could also write your term paper or thesis with Word or Writer on your netbook. You wouldn’t want to do this with Google Docs, right?

  6. Stefan 12 years ago

    The whole point of this part is to critize:
    – that youtube is too slow on the Philippines (well i also blame windows for my slow modem connection but until this day microsoft support never helped me with that for reasons i don’t understand)

    – that Chromebook does not run Windows (i also hate my washing-machine for that reason)

    – does not run Microsoft Office (again: because it lacks Windows, .NET, MS Office)

    – Office 365 won’t be available for Chromebooks (By the way: Is that Chromebooks fault? No, Microsoft is not able/or willing, maybe both, to programm something like Google docs.)

    – it lacks “modern programming languages” (whatever languages you declare worthy for that term)

    – Google Docs is not useable because its not MS Office

    – you don’t like it (no excuse for that, thats a release-critical bug – please report it to the chromium bug-tracker)

    Basically: Its not a traditional windows-laptop. True! Thats the advantage you’re missing (plus the whole chromium concept too).

    I am looking forward to part3, entertainment is guaranteed.

  7. Michael Pietroforte 12 years ago

    Stefan, I am unsure what exactly the problem with your washing machine is, but you are right, the main downside of Chromebooks is that you can’t run Windows applications on them whereas you can run every web app on a Windows netbook. If you don’t like Windows (which I assume) I suggest you just buy a Linux netbook. At least you can then run all web apps plus quite a few good Linux applications.

    I am also unsure what I could have missed about a concept which primary feature seems to be to strip off essential capabilities from common netbooks. In my view less is always less and never more no matter what Google’s marketers keep telling us.

  8. Stefan 12 years ago

    The washing machine is limited to single use-case: washing.
    Nothing more, nothing less.

    Maybe a TV-set is a better example: You could just take a normal (silent) computer with windows, install some video-players on it and watch TV. Plus you can surf the web, play games etc. You argue that people would be stupid to throw all these possibilies away for a device with only purpose: watch tv.

    But that exactly people expect from a tv set, nothing more nothing less.
    Basically a tv-set is a very limited system (a stripped-down computer) which only runs one application (the TV-application). Is that a crazy idea? No, if you want to watch television its the best you can do. Its a trade-off: full flexibility versus focussed usability. Try to use windows with only a simple remote control from the couch.

    Another example are game pads like xbox or playstation,

    The netbook-idea wasn’t thought through because it focussed on the hardware. People bought it for the lower weight and better price but expected a full laptop. They got cheap hardware which could not handle all the blown-desktop applications (or OS like Vista) properly. At least Google got it, maybe there is no space between tradional laptop, tablets and smartphones to fill, but at least they had an original idea. Innovation is risk, it rather pointless to critize someone for new ideas just because they are new (and not include windows).

  9. Michael Pietroforte 12 years ago

    Stefan, I agree that devices that can only be used for a certain purpose (eBook readers for instance) are currently an interesting option for some people. However, it is not unlikely that this will change soon. More and more TV sets not only allow you to watch TV, but also surf the web, email, chat, etc. and the next Kindle probably will allow you to do more than just reading eBooks. You can see this trend also with mobile phones. Most people want to use a mobile phone not just as a phone. Thus I doubt that a device that can only be used for surfing the web and run some simple web apps has a future. And I am not criticizing Google for their new ideas. I am criticizing them for selling a very old idea that already failed in the past (remember Netscape?) as a new idea. You will read more about this in my last post.

  10. Stefan 12 years ago

    It was too early for that idea in the times of Netscape. Since then Microsoft burns money on the internet (and a little bit on the antitrust trial).

    The whole IT-industry consists of “old” ideas (virtualization, cloud-computing, web 2.0) which failed or missed the break-through in the past.

    Welcome in the real world: Most people use a mobile phone just as a phone (not all people are sysops!). Only 25% of all sold phones are smartphones. People are happy when a “tool” (phone, TV, ebook-Reader, video game consoles) just works as intended. Its common mistake from tech-savy people (like ourselves) to think there has to be the ultra-flexible-one-fits-all-devices which brings all the features needed no matter the usability-costs. This is the reason Apple sold so many devices: They are just usable and have the end-user in mind not the technician. I’m not an Apple-fan for sure, but the lack of understanding (for usability) from the competitors made them strong.

    By the way: The windows 8 version for arm-cpus will be like the chromebooks – in the beginning there will a browser and thats it. I seriouly doubt there will be binary-compatibility with x86 or Office. So lets see if that works 😉

  11. Robert 10 years ago

    Here you state (Don’t remember if in comments or in article, granted the article is old) but there honestly isn’t anything in price that compares to the 249.99 chromebook. every other netbook is 150+ dollars more.

  12. Gabriel 9 years ago

    I’ve gotta say I agree with Stefan, and not because I read and then agreed with him but reading this section of the review I was thinking the exact same thing! I already ‘have’ a windows machine. I was looking for the disadvantages of owning a chromebook like the title says, not the disadvantages of ‘not’ having a windows machine 🙂

    You kinda need to review what you’re reviewing. You’ve pretty much said you don’t like it for what it’s not, not for what it is. I felt a lot of the time I was hearing more about windows than the chromebook 🙁

  13. Michael Pietroforte 9 years ago

    Stefan, yes usability is an important point. But it is not everything. A typewriter is easier to use than a computer and a Apple device is easier to use than a PC. I still know people who prefer typewriters. They usually tell me “a typwriter just works”. I also have good friends who prefer Apple. Nothing wrong with that. 😉

    Robert, a low price is also a good argument. That is why I would prefer a $150 Android tablet if I want just a cheap web browser.

    Grabriel, of course if you don’t mind to always carry a Chromebook for browsing the web and your “Windows machine” to get some work done, then a Chromebook is no real disadvantage, except perhaps that your bag is a bit heavier than usual. 😉 And don’t you think that if you review a Ford, it makes sense to mention the features it lacks compared to a BMW?

    Funny thing is, when I wrote these comments in my Chrome browser, I was disconnected from the internet without noticing it. When I clicked “submit” the text was gone. But as a trained web app user I routinely copy the text to Notepad. One more time I was convinced that web apps will never replace real apps.

  14. Stefan 9 years ago

    Well its over anyway, only 200k were sold. It pretty much equals windows RT, not enough apps, too limited use.

  15. Michael Pietroforte 9 years ago

    Yes, it is over. However, what stays is that it is Google’s biggest management mistake. If they pushed Android on laptops and desktops before Windows 8 came out, they could have become a serious Microsoft competitor. Eric Schmidt would have done if the Google founders wouldn’t be so infatuated with the web.

  16. Stefan 9 years ago

    I don’t know about that, Android is great for special purpose-computers like media-center-computers but i see no advantage on laptops. People accept mobile-optimzed OS on smartphones and tablets but on laptops they want to do the serious stuff.
    Windows RT is neither accepted on Laptops nor tablets and Win8 is not optimized for mobile purposes.
    Also there is no difference if they brought android before win8 or afterwards, android is not relevant on desktops/laptops and win8 (mobile or not) is not relevant on tablet or smartphones. Its not likely that will changes in the near future.
    Given the history of windows and android i would conclude its more likely that android gains market share on the desktop than windows mobile on mobile devices. Despite working on Linux many years on desktop, laptop and mobile i think windows will stay dominant on desktops as long its pre-installed and the majority on programms/binaries runs on x86-windows.
    Windows RT died for the same reason, even if Android runs on x86 they have to face the same (unsolvable?) problem. Of course it helps if people know all the apps from their phone already but there are still a lot of programs that are available only on windows.

  17. Michael Pietroforte 9 years ago

    The point is that Google has the money to adapt Android for desktops and laptops. They just don’t do it because they are blinded by their success in the web. With Android Google solved the chicken-and-egg problem that other OS makers faced when they tried to compete with Windows. Who wants develop apps if the OS doesn’t already have a significant market share? Even if the first versions of Android for laptops would be technically inferior to Windows, many would buy these devices if they could save some money and use the apps they already know from their tablets.

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